Continuing the Legacy
Garrisons continue family tradition in Maine
Gregg Garrison, the Maine Potato Board's Young Farmer of the Year last year, attributes much of his success to his father, Wayne.
"Take care of the land ... and be open to change ... embrace innovation and say yes to opportunities that present themselves," he said were lessons he learned from his father.
"We don't irrigate, that's on thing Dad and I don't do," Gregg said. "We invest in ground rather than irrigation, then we take it more toward the three year rotation. I think the ground will benefit from it, have more water and handling capacity."
"Last year," he said, "was a good year. The ground was real wet most of the year until the end of July. Then it went dry in August and where the ground was rotated for years, we still got beautiful potatoes off the ground."
The Garrison's operation, Double G Farms, has acreage in Presque Isle, Easton and Fort Fairfield, as well as in Blaine.
Blaine is a small farming community in Northern Maine's Aroostook County, the largest county in land area east of the Mississippi River, with a total area of 6,829 square miles. Maine residents simply refer to Aroostook as "The County," but the word means "Beautiful River" in the Native American language.
Farming is a family tradition with the Garrisons. Gregg began farming when he was 8 years old, working with his parents, Wayne and Jacqueline, and sisters Andrea and Tracey.
Garrison and his wife, Heidi, have four children, Olivia, Spencer, Chandler and Sydney. Heidi is an elementary school teacher who also helps during the harvest season when needed.
Gregg's daughter, Olivia, and son, Spencer, have both expressed an interest in carrying on the family legacy and he is all for it.
"I would love it if they all came back to the farm," he said. "I encourage them to at least play a role. There are plenty of careers in agriculture. It doesn't have to be in farming. It could be as an agronomist or a research worker. Olivia is in 4-H and FFA."
Olivia works on the harvester by herself, where she also gets a lot of quality time with her father out in the fields. Spencer runs the binpiler and Chandler helps around the potato house where the potatoes from the field are sorted.
Not only do the children work in the field, they gain retail and marketing experience.
"We have a roadside stand on U.S. Rt. 1," Gregg said, "so the youngsters can sell potatoes. We grow half an acre of Superiors and a quarter of an acre of Dark Red Norlands. We sell them in 5-pound bags. We dig them fresh every day and sell them as fast as we can."
Working with his father, Wayne, Double G Farms plants 600 acres of potatoes and 600 acres in rotation, consisting of grain - mostly oats - which are sold right out of the field.
"We usually take 100 acres every years, leave them down one more year with clover. We let that come up through, cut the grain off, let that grow and leave it all winter and in another year plow that under," Garrison said.
"I feel that gives us more organic matter and more water holding material in our soil," Garrison said. "On a one-to-one rotation, if you were going potatoes-grain-potatoes-grain evenly, your soil would become worn out. I want to do those 100 acres another six or seven years.
"We just don't have enough ground," he said. "We own about 800 acres and rent another 500. We are always looking for more ground."
They are process growers, with 90 percent of their Russet Burbanks going to McCain Foods at Easton, Me., and the remaining 10 percent going to Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill.
Gregg said that his father is very much involved in the operation of the farm.
"We are still 50-50 in ownership between us," he said. "He told me that when he got to be 65 he would quit farming. Well, he is still going strong.
Farming today is vastly different from the past, and Garrison pines for the days when computers didn't play such a large role.
"The equipment used to run a farm today is different," he said. "I just missed out. Computers weren't as important when I went to school as they are today. Everyone uses them today. I feel I have to study extra hard on things like the GPS systems that are being used now. Bookkeeping is all on computers.
"We use GPS when we spread our lime and fertilizer. I haven't gone to the sub-inch. That's the ‘big bucks' one. Right now we're in the four-inch, which for spreading fertilizer is fine. With the planters we have now, you can be within plus or minus one inch. We're probably not far from doing that," Garrison said.
The elder Garrison is amazed at the technological advances in the potato industry, his son said.
"He never dreamed of planting potatoes with no one on the planter, putting in six rows at a time," Garrison said. "I hope we can make the ‘big step' to sub-inch before he leaves farming completely, so he can sit on the tractor and watch the steering wheel turn back and forth. He already does that on our four-inch GPS."
You just have to keep up with the technological advances if you want to continue being a farmer according to Gregg Garrison.
"You are a survivor," Garrison said, "if you are still farming."
— By Voscar, Maine Correspondent
Photo Cutline: Greg Garrison was named the Maine Potato Board's Young Farmer of the Year in 2009. Photo by Voscar